According to the teachings of Stoicism, a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC, the path to fulfillment is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself. By not allowing yourself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or by the fear of pain, by using your mind to understand the world and to do your part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.
He’s never publicly admitted it, but Brian Cody’s Kilkenny, in winning their 11 All- Irelands during his stewardship (and 17 semis in 19 tries), have more than dabbled in Stoicism. On Saturday night, as the fog hung over Croke Park like a soft blanket, Kilkenny simply got out-stoic’d by Waterford.
If the toy show owned Friday night, the Déise took the pint of Fanta and downed it.
“2021 is the last thing on Liam Cahill and Waterford’s mind,” Dónal Óg told us from the RTÉ pulpit, Ursula Jacob and Jackie Tyrell looking off wistfully into the night behind him, thinking about 2021 just like the rest of us. But, we should’ve known, hurlers are not like the rest of us.
If Kilkenny don’t win tonight, the panel surmised, it’ll be five years since they’ve won a title. Five years! An entire generation of junior infants who know nothing but pain and despair. Theirs is a particular type of grief only Waterford and Mayo people can understand. Five years. 60 months. How did Cody still have a job? Surely a question for the maestro before throw-in?
Turns out, had Cody told Damian O’Meara he was chucking the towel in come what may, it wouldn’t have been a bigger bombshell than the announcement that both teams were playing as selected. Both. Teams. 2020 once again hinting to us it’s not been a year at all, but a movie directed by David Lynch.
Cody said some nice things about Waterford before the game, reaffirming Dónal Óg’s point that they are not a “coming team”, and would be treated accordingly. Liam Cahill, meanwhile, gave off an air of general soundness. The type of man you’d happily fish with for a day.
Ursula, Dónal, and Jackie all gave Waterford a decent shot. Their air of optimism in stark contrast to their football avatars utter dismissal of Cavan the week before. “This could be their time” all three said, but, like a government minister talking about pints at Christmas, you sensed they didn’t fully believe it.
As well they shouldn’t have.
Kilkenny started like a bull on the narrow streets of Pamplona. TJ Reid didn’t live up to the hype, but once again surpassed it. Waterford fought gamely, but looked clueless how to put a plug in the jug. The water break arrived like a presidential pardon. Even then, the lull was temporary. 23 minutes in, and TJ struck again. Kilkenny were seven points up and cruising.
A minute later, Waterford’s Jack Fagan pulled a stroke the late el Diego would be proud of; it barely drew comment out of Darragh Maloney in the commentary box. In his defence, there was suddenly a fair bit happening.
Waterford were playing better, but making no inroads. Dessie Hutchinson, who sounds more like a character in a Hollywood movie on the Troubles than a classy hurler, showed touches that parlayed some hope for the contest.
Half-time, and we were all certain what we were watching; a study in stoicism, as executed by Kilkenny.
Waterford weren’t at the races, Dónal Óg informed us. They were seven points down against Kilkenny in Croke Park in an All Ireland semi-final. Dónal didn’t quench the candle, however. Maybe everyone was in such good form after the Toy Show, they were afraid to call this one how they must have truly seen it. Over.
Seven points isn’t a massive lead in hurling, smirked Joanne. No said Ursula, against that opposition it’s a death sentence. Ok, it’s not what she said, but likely what she thought.
Two minutes into the second half, Kilkenny were eight points up. This was level six levels of denial. Then, Stephen Bennett scored a goal with wrists quicker than a pickpocket in Ballybrit.
Austin Gleeson didn’t so much play a match as live seven lives. Another hurler might not have reemerged for the second half. He did, reborn, only to die and resurrect another half dozen times. The emotional drain of his sporting metamorphosis was crippling and inspiring in equal measure. His second half display of was one of grit and imperfect, brutal genius.
The game itself became one of such normalised brilliance, that many of the magical moments passed, uncommented upon. Maloney and his sidekick Brendan Cummins were themselves playing a blinder.
Cummins in particular provided the perfect measure of insight, in doing so in tandem with Maloney, they seamlessly sountracked this slow burn of an epic.
There were other noises, too. The roars from the sideline throughout were guttural and raw. The language as colourful as it was real. At one stage, Maloney offered the token apology for any offence caused. He quit halfway through, perhaps realising it was just another thread of an epic that contained multitudes.
Waterford were so convincing in their victory, it was over before it was over. Indicative of their defiant belief, lads who had spent the night trying things and failing, tried them again and were triumphant. It says so much they beat this Kilkenny team with TJ Reid in such imperious form.
As for Cody and his Cats? The body language and posture of his congratulatory fist-bump to Liam Cahill said all we needed to know.
Stoic, to the very last.